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Sublimation for Beginners – 9 of the most common Sublimaion FAQs

I was a beginner to sublimation a while ago! And if you’ve found this article, chances are that you’re a beginner too! When I first got started with sublimation as a beginner, I was working with a bunch of different materials; t-shirts, hoodies, hats, socks, you name it! A lot of what I learned as a beginner was from different online sources like YouTube and various Blogs, but the majority was from trial and error. In this article, we’re going to be going over sublimation for beginners. What are some of the most common pitfalls for sublimation? How can you improve with sublimation? We’ll be covering sublimation for beginners, and some of the most common sublimation FAQs!

If you just bought a sublimation printer, or you want to try your hand at sublimation, then this is the place for you to be! No matter your skill level, I genuinely think everyone can learn something from these common sublimation FAQs! Let’s get into sublimation for beginners!

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What is sublimation?

Okay, let’s get this one out of the way first. 

Sublimation is a process to transfer dyes onto types of fabrics and materials. An image is created digitally, using something like Photoshop, and printed onto a chemically coated piece of paper with specialized sublimation ink. This digital print is then placed on the transfer material. Once heat and pressure are applied, the image will transfer onto the polymers in the transfer materials. 

Sound a little overly complicated? No worries. Sublimation is just a process to transfer images onto specific types of materials. Heat and pressure are used to facilitate the transfer. Because the transfer occurs at the molecular level, it’s a permanent transfer. That means that no matter how many times you wash or scrub the transferred image, it won’t come off! It’s a great way of transferring images or designs onto different types of materials. 

Later in this article, we’ll be going over some of the types of materials you can use, the specially coated paper, the type of inks you need, and much more! If you’re more interested in reading about those specifically, check out some of our other resources on sublimation printing here. I’d recommend reading our basic guide into sublimation printing, it’s a great way to get up and running quickly! Once you’re done, make sure to come back here and read more!

Why sublimation printing?

You’ve probably heard of other ways to transfer images and designs onto different materials. Maybe you’ve heard of screen printing, embroidery, transfer vinyls, or direct to garment printing. But why sublimation?

Well, sublimation printing offers a unique blend of cost, quality, and time savings for a designer that makes sublimation an attractive option. Let me explain.

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Cost of sublimation printing

Many other methods of transferring images can be really expensive to get started with. To give a specific example, let’s consider direct to garment printing. If you wanted to get started with direct to garment printing, you’d firstly need to invest into a large scale DTG printer. These types of printers can run upwards of thousands of dollars, and can be expensive to maintain and use. 

Other methods like screen printing may require large, open spaces for ventilation and processing. They may involve a number of different screens, each needing an area to be cleaned and to dry. The costs of getting involved with something like screen printing or direct to garment printing can be astronomical.

That’s where sublimation printing can shine! Sublimation printing can easily be started for less than a thousand dollars. All you need is your printer, ink, heat press, and designs! Once you have those, you can get started with transferring right away!

Sublimation’s superior quality

Sublimation printing offers a clear quality advantage over other alternative methods.

When you get started working with something like screen printing, you’ll quickly run into different limitations of screen printing. For example, most screen printers are going to be limited in the number of colors and complexity of their designs. Each color needs to be run through a screen, so anything greater than 6 colors can present a real challenge for a screen printer!

But sublimation printing doesn’t have these limitations. Sublimation printing works by transferring digitally created images from a specially coated paper onto your desired material. The only limitation here is in the quality of prints from your printer. With sublimation printing, you are more than capable of printing high quality, high fidelity images directly onto your desired material!

Faces, places, photos, and more present no challenge for a sublimation designer!

A basic guide to getting started in dye-sublimation printing

Sublimation time savings features

With sublimation, you may find your process to be a lot faster or more efficient than other transfer methods!

Sublimation printing represents the perfect middle ground for cost and time when it comes to production. Screen printing may be able to make more t-shirts per hour, but it’ll cost significantly more to hit those speeds! Direct to garment may be able to produce a one-off t-shirt at a lower cost, but it’ll take more time to get it set up!

But with sublimation, you can produce low to medium quantity orders without significant hits to your wallet. This means that sublimation is perfect for someone looking to handle small to medium sized orders without racking up a large bill to run their business.

What do I need to start with sublimation?

Getting started with sublimation is a lot easier than it sounds! You can read more about our specific guide to getting started with sublimation printing here!

To get started, you’ll need the follow:

  • Sublimation Ready Printer
    • You can either use a printer designed and manufactured for sublimation, or you can convert an already existing ink jet printer to support sublimation.
  • Sublimation Ink
  • Sublimation Paper
    • There are a lot of different kinds of sublimation paper out there. I’d recommend checking out the brand A-SUB! If you want to read more about our thoughts on sublimation paper, check out our buyer’s guide for sublimation paper.
  • Heat Press
    • This is what you’ll use to transfer the design. Make sure to get a heat press that has the minimum size requirements for your designs and transfers.
  • Design Software
    • You’ll need something to design your transfers with! I personally use Photoshop, it has a wealth of information to get started with. Read more about why I use Photoshop, and some of the other sublimation design softwares here.

That’s pretty much it! You may want some other accessories, maybe some heat resistant gloves, some heat resistant tape or adhesive, and some kraft paper to protect your workplace. But this is the minimum requirements for getting started. It really is that easy. 

Best fabrics for dye-sublimation printing

What products can I sublimation onto?

So what can you sublimate onto? Great question!

Sublimation works by binding ink to polymers within the transfer material. So anything with a sufficiently high polymer content should be able to be sublimated onto!

Specific types of fabrics include polyester, nylon, and spandex, but there’s a lot more! You can also sublimate onto types of aluminum and ceramic if they are specially coated in a type of material that can accept the sublimation ink. 

When you are shopping for different sublimation blanks to use, make sure that they are specifically advertised or listed as sublimation ready. This is a great way to guarantee that you are working with the right types of materials. Some good listing services for sublimation blanks are Coastal Business and Johnson Plastics & Plus!

We have some great resources to read more about the types of sublimation materials you can use here. Check it out if you want to learn more about the types of fabric that can be used with sublimation printing.

Do the fabrics have to be 100% polyester?

Short answer: no. But let’s dig into it a little more than that.

When you are a sublimation beginner, you’ll find a lot of people recommending polyester as a fabric for sublimation. And polyester is absolutely one of the best fabrics for sublimation for beginners!

But you don’t need to worry about ensuring that you’re using 100% polyester. In fact, I don’t even recommend using 100% polyester. Let me explain why I think 100% polyester is too much for sublimation for beginners.

For starters, 100% polyester isn’t the most comfortable material in the world! If you design or make a shirt, you want to make sure that your design will be worn! If you’re sticking to materials that are uncomfortable or are itchy to wear, then people are unlikely to wear them. 

Sure, 100% polyester has a great transfer with your sublimation inks. You’ll definitely get really high quality transfers when you work with 100% polyester. But if you work with a blended material, perhaps 60% polyester and 40% cotton, you’ll still end up with a great transfer. And you’ll end up with a more comfortable shirt.

When it comes to the right ratio in blended fabrics, I’d recommend sticking with at least 50% polyester. If you go much lower than 50%, you may end up with incomplete or weak transfers. Don’t be afraid to try a new blend, but if you stick with this rule, I think you’ll end up with great results. You can read more about our opinion on sublimation fabrics and what are the best fabrics for dye sublimation here.

Cotton Fabric for Dye-Sublimation Printing

Can I sublimate onto 100% cotton fabric?

Short answer: no. It is not possible to sublimate onto cotton fabrics at all.

The sublimation process transfers inks onto fabrics by bonding the dye with polymers in the transfer material. Polymers are an artificial part of different fabrics and materials, and are not present in natural fibers. 

Because of this, fabrics like cotton and wool cannot be sublimated onto. There are no polymers for the sublimation ink to bond with. 

There have been some recent products that supposedly allow you to sublimate onto these natural fibers. They work by coating your cotton or wool with a thin layer of chemicals that can accept the sublimation transfers. I have never used these products and cannot recommend them or their functionality. 

Do I need a lint roller for sublimation?

I would highly recommend using a lint roller for sublimation. Here’s why.

When you buy a fabric, t-shirt, or other product from a store, there are almost always bits of dirt and debris in the fibers of the material. This is one of the reasons why it’s commonly recommended that you wash your clothes when you buy something new from the store.

For these reasons, it’s recommended that you, at the very least, use a lint roller on your fabrics before you begin sublimating. The lint roller will help pick up any debris or dirt from within the fabric fibers, resulting in a more clean and consistent transfer. 

It only takes a few seconds, and can result in a much higher quality transfer. So why wouldn’t you do it? Just use a lint roller to pick up the quick and easy to get dirt from your fabric before you transfer your designs!

Adobe CC Suite - Dye Sublimation Printing

What is the best sublimation design software?

There are a lot of options when it comes to picking out a design software for your journey into sublimation. But which one is best for you?

Well that comes down to your specific requirements. I generally recommend Photoshop to most people. But you may not be interested in the monthly subscription cost for the Adobe Suite. There are other alternatives, most notable GIMP.

Ultimately, you need to use a software that allows you to manipulate the color profiles of your prints, and allows you to design the way you want. We have some resources if you want to learn more about our recommended design softwares for sublimation. I’d highly recommend checking it out to really figure out what the best design software is for you.

Why can’t I sublimate with dark colored garments?

There’s a pretty simple answer to why you can’t sublimate onto dark colored garments.

Because sublimation is a process that transfers ink onto different types of materials, there’s a problem with transferring onto dark garments. You can’t see it!

When you sublimate onto dark colored garments, there isn’t any way to see your transfers! That’s why we always use light colored, most commonly white garments. 

There are options for you if you’re really set on sublimating onto dark garments. Specifically you can use a printer that can print with white ink! I’ve never done this, and can’t speak too much to sublimating onto dark garments. Here’s a source that you can read more about sublimation onto dark garments!

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